Residents of Puerto Rico can’t vote in presidential elections. But with the island’s economy in shambles, many are fleeing to the U.S. mainland, potentially shifting demographic norms in some of the most closely contested states. The impact of Puerto Rican migrants on the election hinges on how successful voting advocates are in getting them to the polls, with many focused more on finding jobs, homes and schools. Together, Pennsylvania, Florida and Ohio — three pivotal states in the fall — absorbed more than 22,500 Puerto Rican migrants in 2013 alone. Many more Puerto Ricans already living on the mainland have relocated to these states from traditional hubs such as New York.
Recent polls suggest that for now, Democrat Hillary Clinton leads in Pennsylvania and has the edge in Ohio, while Clinton and Republican Donald Trump are in a close race in Florida.
“Think about what happened in 2000” with the presidential recount in Florida, said Sandra Suarez, a professor of political science at Philadelphia’s Temple University. “The difference was a few hundred votes.”
Puerto Ricans living on the island can only vote in presidential primaries. As U.S. citizens, they are immediately eligible to vote in national elections upon residency and registration on the mainland. Even if only one-quarter of eligible recent Puerto Rican migrants vote in Pennsylvania and Florida, that could be enough to tilt a close race.